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OSUs Bernards been losing the handle

Running back's four fumbles one more than all of last year
by: JONATHAN FERREY, Yvenson Bernard’s on pace to rush for 1,287 yards this season for Oregon State, but the junior has uncharacteristically fumbled four times this year.

CORVALLIS - A year ago, Yvenson Bernard was a workhorse in Seattle, carrying 35 times for 122 yards in Oregon State's 18-10 victory over Washington on a wet, cold day.

'The only thing I remember is the weather was brutal,' says OSU's junior tailback, who goes into battle again Saturday when the Beavers visit Husky Stadium to play UW. 'I just go out there and play. I don't remember stats. I remember it was a tough game and we came out on top.'

There is one statistic Bernard has memorized, however: fumbles. He has four of them in 100 carries this season, one more than he had in 299 rushing attempts during the 2005 campaign.

'The fumbles, that's not me,' Bernard says. 'I've never done that before - ever. To do that when my team needs me, it's not OK. There is no explanation for it and no excuses on my part.'

In last Saturday's 13-6 loss to Washington State, Bernard was off to an 18-yard scamper when WSU's Tyron Brackenridge knocked the ball loose from behind. The Cougars recovered at their 19-yard line.

'Now it's a focus (for defenders) to try to get the ball out of my hands,' Bernard says. 'But I can't think about that part, except to concentrate on having a firm grip (on the ball). I just have to go out there and play.'

Bernard's done his part pretty well on that count, ranking second in the Pac-10 with 495 yards and five TDs on the ground while catching 15 passes. At this clip, he would gain 1,287 yards rushing in 13 games this season, not far behind last year's pace.

The 5-9, 205-pound Boca Raton, Fla., native picked up 1,321 yards in 12 games in 2005, fifth on the school's single-season list behind only Ken Simonton and Steven Jackson (twice apiece). With 112 yards against Washington on Saturday, Bernard would move ahead of Sam Baker (1,947) and Ken Carpenter (1,910) into seventh place on the OSU career rushing list.

Bernard is averaging only 20 carries a game. He left early in blowout victories over Eastern Washington and Idaho and didn't get as many carries because the Beavers have played from behind in losses to Boise State, California and Washington State. A year ago, he averaged 25 attempts.

'We would like to get his numbers up to 25-ish,' coach Mike Riley says. 'We need to run the ball more. As our offense develops and grows and we do a better job with balance, he will get more yards.'

Riley also wants to use Clinton Polk, the 6-2, 215-pound junior transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College who didn't play against Boise State or Washington State and didn't carry the ball against Cal. In the other two games, Polk carried 19 times for 85 yards and a TD.

'Clinton is going to play Saturday,' Riley promises. 'We're going to make sure Ev gets a break. We'll use both of those guys.'

Bernard's linemen have great respect for him. They just hope early-season drops don't turn into a case of fumble-itis.

'The guy makes plays, there's no doubt about it,' senior tackle Adam Koets says. 'I have all the confidence you could have in Ev, but if he holds onto the ball, we have a chance to be good. If he keeps fumbling, we've got problems.'